”It has been said that a Cole Porter song is a luxury item.” That’s one of the last lines Stevie Holland purrs in Love, Linda, her one-woman show about the famous songwriter’s wife. And if her description of Porter’s deluxe melodies is accurate, then this 75-minute Off Broadway musical is the theatrical equivalent of an outlet mall.
Holland has strung together 20 Porter tunes into a threadbare narrative about Linda’s transformation from Southern doyenne to socially snug wife of a famously closeted homosexual. But while Holland’s love for her subject is admirably on display, her script (with Gary William Friedman) never delves beyond some milquetoast anecdotes. For 34 years Linda loved her husband, despite his sexual preferences, and yet Holland doesn’t believably embody a woman torn between a real love and a desire to be loved. In this cabaret-style effort, Mrs. Porter doesn’t so much leap into life on stage as she does crawl very, very slowly.
Certainly, Holland is an accomplished jazz musician whose pleasant voice is well-suited to the sprightly notes of Porter’s signature songwriting style. While the music is the high point, the sheer quantity of tunes weighs down Holland?s efforts at depth in the forgettable book scenes (moments like Porter?s crippling horse accident or Linda?s miscarriage barely register). The problem is that Cole, who sits comfortably in a portrait frame throughout, dominates in his absence. Holland fails to justify bringing Linda out of the shadows and into the spotlight. (For instance, why is her abusive first husband merely mentioned in passing?) And in an effort to cram in favorite Porter songs, Linda belts out lyrics that jar with the stories preceding them.
Still, James Morgan and Graham Kindred provide intimate scenic and lighting design, respectively, and the three-piece onstage band gives vibrant life to delectable Porter songs like ”I Love Paris” and ”Let’s Do It.” And director Richard Maltby Jr. laudably sets a brisk pace, never spending too much time on any one song or scene. But this is Holland’s show, and her robotic hand gestures detract from her sweet renditions of Porter’s music. Lucky for you, the ”original cast recording” is available in the lobby. At least you’ll get a kick out of that. C